By Kevin Hackenberg
Buck taken October 13, 2007
-- I have been archery hunting in Pennsylvania for about 15 years yet the most memorable hunt I’ve experienced was during October 2007. That was the first time I’d ever had someone in the tree with me—someone who had never experienced the outdoors much beyond a walk in a park.
At the beginning of the season I asked my city-born and raised fiancée Nicole Smith if she would come along with me on a Saturday hunt. She didn't sound too excited about getting up at 5 a.m. to sit in a treestand and wait for deer to appear, but she put a smile on my face when she said, “Sure, honey, I’ll tag along with you.”
The pressure was on. I placed a double ladder stand at the edge of one of the fields where I’d noticed a lot of deer activity, and stayed clear of the area for a week so I wouldn't spook the game I’d been seeing. The night before our morning hunt, I explained fundamentals about what she could and could not do while in the treestand. I was worried she wouldn't be able to sit still for a long time, and concerned she would get the wrong impression about the experience if we didn’t see anything.
Morning came and she was ready to get into the woods to see what I’ve talked about all these years. We were in the treestand 30 minutes before daybreak. At dawn there was a baby fawn about 35 yards away. It apparently had lost its mother and was squalling. I could tell Niki was very excited this was happening in front of her. When the noisy fawn moved into the middle of the field, two does and four fawns walked underneath us. They fed for about 45 minutes before moving on. Then a little six-point buck walked out and looked right up at us. I thought it was going to bust us by snorting and stomping. It turned into a staring competition, but it finally moved on. She also got to see two red fox and about 30 wild turkeys.
We talked about what just happened, and she was excited about the whole experience. I commended her on her actions during the morning. She stayed very still and quiet especially when the young buck was trying to bust us. I was very happy we’d observed so much activity on her first trip into the woods. I hoped she wouldn't get discouraged or not pursue thoughts of becoming a hunter. Later, she was excited to see what it was like during the evening hunt.
While we were heading back to the stand we spotted two fawns about 45 yards in front of the treestand. We waited at the base of the stand until I decided we couldn’t wait any longer, even if we spooked the fawns. She was the first one up, taking her time on every silent step. Both of us were able to get in the stand unobserved. We watched the fawns another half hour.
There was little activity the next two hours except for turkeys and squirrels. Right before dusk, Nicole pointed out the same 6-pointer we saw that morning. I thought I saw a flash of another white tail behind it, but Nicole said she said she didn't see anything so I focused on the little buck until she tapped my leg and pointed to another buck. She stayed very still as an 11-point buck came within 25 yards and turned broadside to give me the perfect opportunity.
I pulled back and made a good shot. He took off into the woods. I told her we had to remember were we last saw him and explained why we would wait until dark to find him. We were both very excited. I had not intended on shooting anything while she was with me. I had been more interested in trying to get her interested in the outdoors.
At dark we were on our way to retrieve the buck. We found the blood trail after an hour in pitch black night with each of us using a flashlight. We got it back to the house and continued to dress it. Nicole was very interested to see how this was done.
That day is something I will never forget. It made me so happy to introduce someone to the outdoors, and to share what I’ve learned about wildlife and Mother Nature. The last thing she said was that she can't wait until next year.
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